Get to Grips with Hardscape


Considering it’s the most obvious furniture in our aquaria, you’d have thought more people would pay attention to décor. Riverwood Aquatics owner Peter Cookson offers some tips.

Hardscape is the foundation to a beautiful aquarium, and can range from a stunning diorama of a weathered mountain range, complete with trees, valleys and pathways, to a basic, three-stone Iwagumi layout. 

Bearing in mind a few easy design techniques and simple placement ‘rules’ anyone can put together a strong hardscape, and thus lay the foundation for a stunning aquarium

What is hardscape?

Hardscape is effectively the non-living materials we use to create our underwater habitats. Mostly consisting of wood, rock and substrate, it is important to choose natural materials as these will give our aquascapes an authentic feel. 

Being a natural product, no two pieces of wood or rock are the same. For example, some woods will release large amounts of tannic acids (tannins) into the water, giving the aquarium a darker, more natural appearance and lowering the pH of the water. Whilst these tannins are often beneficial to the aquarium inhabitants, they are not always desired by the aquascaper, so selecting a wood which has a minimal tannin release may be preferential. Let’s run through some of the most popular woods available and explore their characteristics.

Redmoor or Spider wood 

Redmoor is an aquascaping classic. Its shaped roots and branches are perfect for creating that underwater jungle feel — imagine small fish passing through the twisted roots as they reach into the open waters. 

Often available in a huge range of sizes from bags of spindly detailing twigs to enormous ‘stumps’, Redmoor is a great wood for creating detailed and high impact hardscapes. Redmoor can release quite high tannin levels, and is also prone to harmless but unsightly white fungal growth in the first week or two after submersion. 

River wood

River wood is one of my favourite woods to scape with. It has a real aged feel and comes in many different shapes and sizes, from small 10cm detailing pieces, to large branches. I have found it releases minimal tannins and is usually quick to become waterlogged. River wood is also quite a hard wood which will not rapidly decompose and will be enjoyed by rasping plecos.

Corbo catfish wood

As with River wood, Corbo catfish wood releases minimal tannins and is usually quick to sink. This wood is the perfect centrepiece. With its thick trunk and many protruding branches, it can be placed without the need for combining differently sized pieces and offers maximum impact for minimal creative effort. Ideal for those who are just starting out on their aquascaping journey. 

Corbo catfish wood is so called for its hollows and crevices, offering the perfect hidey-holes for shy catfish. These features also lend themselves well to placement of plants such as Anubias, Bucephalandra and Leptochilus species.


Manzanita is an incredibly beautiful wood found almost exclusively in California, USA. Long, gnarled branches can be combined to form truly stunning hardscapes. The thinner branches and twigs can also be used as fine detailing, for those aspiring to take their ‘scapes to the next level. Manzanita is a hard wood which will resist decay and last for a long time submerged in water.

Read the rest of the feature in the March 2022 issue. Buy the latest digital edition and read instantly on your computer, mobile or tablet device.

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